My name is Clare. According to Baby Names R Us or whatever stupid website my friends were dicking around on, it means “illustrious.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant so I looked it up.
Highly distinguished, renowned, famous;
Glorious, as deeds or works;
My brother’s name was Adam. It means “of the earth.” I can’t even explain the feeling.
We were in the library. We were supposed to be doing research for our project on Canadian identity, but of course my friends had no interest in doing what we were supposed to be doing, so they started looking up names instead. Adam. When the screen loaded, all I could see was in the earth.
Next they looked up Audrey, even though I told them I didn’t care. Noble strength.
“Yeah, right.” I rolled my eyes. “Let’s spell it ‘Oddrey.’” We’re sorry, there were no results for baby names starting with ODDREY.
My friends laughed, like I knew they would. I looked back at my screen. Luminous, bright. Perhaps my light died with you, Adam.
Oh well, I can still remain highly distinguished, renowned, famous, and glorious.
That probably makes me sound mean. Sometimes it feels like girls in grade nine have two choices: be mean or be a loser. So I pretend to be mean, only sometimes I don’t know if I’m pretending anymore.
After The Accident, my parents suggested I see a therapist. I told them No F-ing way. Audrey sees a therapist. So they talked to my teachers and it was “mutually agreed upon” that I would visit the guidance counselor once a week starting in September. You know, so I don’t get behind on my studies. It was a valid concern considering I had no motivation to do anything, let alone schoolwork, but I’m not going to give them that.
It’s now May, so for the last eight months I’ve spent an hour a week with a bearded man who insists I call him by his first name, Kyle, and who tries to act like he’s one of us even though he was a teenager in the eighties. His “office” is located right beside the front door and used to be the front-hall closet. That’s just my theory, but I bet I’m right—there’s no window and I think he has to crawl over the desk to get behind it. Sometimes I wish the fire alarm would go off just so I could solve that mystery. The extra-shitty thing about this already-shitty situation is that in order to not disrupt my core courses, they schedule my appointment during my option, which also happens to be my favorite class and the one in which I have the highest grade: graphic design and media.
And I never end up talking about Adam. I always talk about Audrey.
It’s been three days since I found out Audrey might be returning to my school. Every afternoon, I’ve hung out as long as possible with my friends before going home and heading straight up to my room. When Mom calls me for dinner, I lie and say I already ate or that I’m not feeling well. It worked for the first two days, but now they’ve caught on.
“Come down anyway and spend some time with us,” Dad says.
So I do, but I don’t say anything. I hold a hot mug of tea in my hand and stare at the liquid’s surface. I act mean.
“It’s not Audrey’s fault,” they tell me in private. I never would have gotten away with this behavior before. They have to be careful what they say around her now. She’s struggling the most with Adam’s death. She’s trying, and I need to be more supportive and try too. She’s my sister.
After three days, however, they’ve had enough.
“For God’s sake, Clare! What’s wrong with you?” Mom’s face is red and she’s gripping her utensils like that’s all that’s stopping her from throwing them at me. “I hope this isn’t the person you’re going to grow up to be.”
I sneak a glance at Audrey. Mom’s mini-me—that’s what everyone calls her, because it’s freaky how much they look alike. She’s eating her lasagna slowly. She doesn’t show any sign of understanding, but I know her better than anyone.
It’s hard to believe, but when we were little, Audrey and I used to be inseparable. We used to want to be inseparable. We were each other’s first friends, and the other kids were jealous we always had someone to play with. Audrey was always the imaginative one, the free-spirited air sign as opposed to the grounded earth sign, the twin who was coming up with new games and was willing to do things that were exciting, even dangerous, like attach three Slip ’N Slides together down the large hill in the park. The other kids in the neighborhood loved Audrey and were always knocking on the door asking if she could come out—they didn’t give a care if I was around or not. But then those kids and I grew up, and Audrey just . . . didn’t.
Take sexual education class, grade seven. Billy is sitting in the back row. He’s the most popular guy in our year because he’s cute and not afraid of anyone, so everyone’s afraid of him. Even the teachers are afraid of him. Last week he threw Craig’s binders out the fourth-floor window and Ms. Johnson just kept on marking papers like she didn’t even notice.
Mr. Bailey: A girl’s first period usually occurs at about age twelve, but some girls experience their first period much earlier.
Billy: I don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.
The guys laugh. Mr. Bailey titters nervously.
Me (in my head): An ancient South Park reference. I hate South Park.
Audrey (out loud): Clare’s had her period, but I’m still waiting.
Even now, the memory still makes me cringe. Not just because it was completely embarrassing, but because after Audrey said that everyone started laughing and calling her weird, and as her face turned red and her eyes filled with tears, I felt trapped between my own humiliation and a feeling of helplessness to protect my sister, even though she’d put me in the position in the first place.
It’s not my problem. It doesn’t have to be my problem. But even as I tell myself that, I feel the guilt rise up, and I have to shove it back down. My family assumes I’m embarrassed of Audrey the way older siblings are embarrassed of a clingy baby sister. They have no idea what it’s actually like for me, and they don’t care enough to try to find out.
Mom’s still giving me stabby eyes.
“I don’t know what you expect from me,” I tell her. “I’m down here spending time with you...